Nymboida community gathers one year after devastating fire

THIS time last year NSW was a state on fire, with bushfires raging out of control right and in the Clarence Valley, they left a community devastated and wondering how it would survive.

One year on from the catastrophic 2019 bushfire that tore through the remote community of Nymboida, a special anniversary event was held yesterday to allow residents of Nymboida and surrounding areas to reflect on what had happened then, and in the 12 months since their lives were forever changed.

Event organiser and Nymboida resident Pamela Denise said the event was intended to be healing as part of the recovery process, and she felt it had achieved its goal.

Held at Nymboida Camping and Canoeing Centre to recognise the role played by the venue as a recovery hub throughout the summer, Ms Denise said the event featured story telling through various art installations, including the Headspace Nymboida Youth Art Aerosol Bushfire panels, displayed as a standing circle and a fountain installation of the mosaic Bird, Bee and Butterfly baths that were created by community members in recovery workshops funded by Australian Red Cross.

An art installation of photographs during the fire and documenting the regeneration of the bush.
An art installation of photographs during the fire and documenting the regeneration of the bush.

A collection of photographs taken by community members during the fire and documenting the regeneration of the bush was also a part of the event, as well as a natural fibre weaving workshop as well as craft activities for children.

"It's remarkable that in the first year of recovery from the fire we've also been through COVID-19 and because of that there just hasn't been the opportunity to get together as much as we'd like, and certainly not with that many people," Ms Denise said.

"Twelve months ago we had been absolutely smashed, it looked like a bomb had gone off in Nymboida. We were all traumatised and it just got worse and worse as the weeks went by as we began to understand the depth of the loss and the depth of the wounding.

"Now the ground looks great after some rain and there's a feeling among some that there's been progress.

"The whole event was about strengthening relationships to each other but also remembering in a supportive environment. It was also a chance to be thankful for all the help we've received and be grateful we're actually still here.

"Yesterday was about supporting each other, remembering what happened and giving thanks to so many people who were so brave and generous, from the firefighters and clean-up crews, to the people donating goods and money and the organisations doing fundraising to get money to different sectors of the community, as well as the professionals like the mental health workers and other services."

A mural by some of the young people in the Nymboida area serves as a reminder of what the community endured this time last year.
A mural by some of the young people in the Nymboida area serves as a reminder of what the community endured this time last year.

While some residents had made progress towards recovery from the devastation, Ms Denise acknowledged that others were still facing immense challenges and difficulties.

"There's still a lot of work to do, and I'm starting to realise something that I was told which is that it takes years to get used to it taking years," she said.

"Recovery is a process that will take a couple more years, maybe longer. There are people rebuilding as we speak, and it's a wonderful thing to hear the sound of building projects bouncing around the hills.

The event also featured a number of musical performances from Nymboida Camp Oven Festival regulars, who helped provide the inspiration for the event after offering to do a benefit concert in the weeks after the fire.

Musical performances provided entertainment throughout the day at the Nymboida bushire anniversary event at held at Nymboida Camping and Canoeing Centre
Musical performances provided entertainment throughout the day at the Nymboida bushire anniversary event at held at Nymboida Camping and Canoeing Centre

Ms Denise said the idea saw consideration given to an anniversary event, and while a consultation process was underway to decide on what to do with money donated to the community, the coronavirus pandemic struck.

"We put together a written survey for our action plan and got that endorsed to come to a group decision on how to spend the donated money," Ms Denise said.

Musical performances provided entertainment throughout the day at the Nymboida bushire anniversary event at held at Nymboida Camping and Canoeing Centre
Musical performances provided entertainment throughout the day at the Nymboida bushire anniversary event at held at Nymboida Camping and Canoeing Centre

It was then a conversation with Clarence Valley Council staff on bushfire recovery grants for special events that saw an application for funds and the planning process begin that culminated in yesterday's event.

"It was such a lot of work and so hard behind the scenes but it all ran like clockwork, I'm so glad we did it," Ms Denise said.

"A few times over past few weeks I was shaking my head wondering 'what have I done?'

"In the end though while it was heavy going it was worth it for the event and it made people so happy and relaxed and people were pleased to see each other and acknowledge enormity of what happened to us all.

"Nymboida doesn't have a general store, and while we have a community hall we don't have that crucial village shop so this event was really important.

"People have moved away that have had their places burnt down and other people just couldn't stay, they had to leave, so it was really wonderful to have these people back. For many there, yesterday was the first chance to talk to some of their friends and neighbours and to do that on the anniversary I think was really important."

Musical performances provided entertainment throughout the day at the Nymboida bushire anniversary event at held at Nymboida Camping and Canoeing Centre
Musical performances provided entertainment throughout the day at the Nymboida bushire anniversary event at held at Nymboida Camping and Canoeing Centre

Ms Denise thanked event manager Phil Nicholas, Clarence Valley Council, Blaze Aid, Red Cross Australia and headspace Grafton for their support of the event.



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